Delayed COVID-19 results put Pueblo into a dangerous waiting game – as positives rise

Pueblo, in the last week, saw two remarkable things. For the first time, Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar made a call for unity shining lights into the darkness. And Pueblo is just now getting its first snapshot of COVID-19 as current cases grow. 

The Numbers:

Pueblo County (All): 

  • 254 tested (.1% of Pueblo County)
  • 139 negative
  • 101 pending
  • 10 positive

CDPHE’s Mobile Testing Lab (included above)

  • 90 tests administered
  • 37 negative
  • 50 pending
  • 1 ruined test
  • 2 positive

*as of Saturday, March 28, 2020.

Local Picture: 

The testing at the Colorado State Fairgrounds on March 19, was intended to give authorities a snapshot — surveillance — of COVID-19 spread in early March. But with continued delays in getting results, the picture of early March may be a formality now as more positives come from hospital testing and not the mobile lab.

Pueblo wants more tests:

On Friday afternoon, Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar, in a Mayoral Address, was frustrated with the lack of tests and the time it’s taking the state to process the results.

“I’m very frustrated with the delay receiving the results of 57 tests [CDPHE mobile lab],” said Gradisar. “We need more tests now.” 

Why it matters:

The entire reason CDPHE set-up their mobile testing lab to give communities better data to make informed decisions.

Experts say that these epidemiologic surveillances give a scientific “poll” of how a disease is evolving in a community so authorities can make informed policy decisions.  

Turning around tests in a matter of days, for them, could be the difference in stopping an outbreak or having it go unnoticed until the severe cases start going to the hospital. 

Behind the scenes:

If science was going to drive policy to shut down Pueblo, it didn’t matter in the end. Gov. Jared Polis ordered Colorado closed, Thursday, except for essential business. 

But if science is going to drive public health decisions, it could be weeks before the results catch up to the testing as more tests are administered and the positive cases rise. 

Even still, Pueblo Health had to make changes to when they expected the result from the state laboratories. Officials said it could be 3-5 days before getting results. Then it was 4-7 days. Now, Pueblo Health says test results take longer than 7 days.

What they know: 

Gov. Jared Polis knows it’s a problem. He stated so in his press conferences answering a question from PULP. He said they are doing their best to scale up testing and speed results. 

Mike Willis, Director of Emergency Management for Colorado, knows it’s a problem. Earlier this week, Willis told PULP he understood local health departments were frustrated. One of his issues was a lack of reagent, a chemical needed to process the tests.

Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar knows its a problem. He said wants more test and faster results Friday afternoon.

Randy Evetts, Public Health Director, knows it’s a problem and said so at the mobile testing site.

But there is no expected date for when Colorado will have the testing intake and processing ramped up. Local officials tell PULP in this case, the most they can do is pick up the phone and ask when results are coming back.

The big picture: 

Public health experts wanted a view of COVID-19 at the beginning of the week, that would have optimistically placed them 10-14 days behind the outbreak. As of Saturday afternoon with half of the results received Pueblo has 13 positives and 1 death and only half of the picture it wanted from early March.